Fiat Dino Spider 2000 #726 Restoration
Pt. 6 - The Replacement of the Front End
With strength back in the inner sills and bulkhead we can confidently remove the inner wings and chassis rails. All spot welds were drilled out and, carefully, the front end section was prised away from the bulkhead.
The chassis rails under the floor pass forward to be sleeved inside the front chassis rails. By drilling out the spot welds we can remove the front end and leave the 'lugs' that sleeve inside the chassis rail. We will then be able to slide the new front end over the 'lugs' and use the steering box and steering idler to align the front end before welding in place. We will use mig plugs which will replace the spot welds and also seam weld along the edges for extra strength.
The Spider cross member at the top of the bulkhead is damaged, cracked and dented. On our new front end this cross member was damaged whilst being dipped so a new one was fabricated. The near side end carries the brake reservoirs and has captive nuts to carry the reservoir mounting brackets. This end was not damaged so we saved it. Further along is the mounting point for the accelerator bracket. This area had split where the captive nuts are located. This is a common weak spot on all Series 2 and 2.4 cars. Opening up the 3 Webers puts a lot of strain on it. Early Series 1 cars have a different set up so don't suffer this problem. The change came with the move to 4 stud cars when the early 3 stud carbs were discontinued. We reinforced the mounting point by making it double skinned. This way we will eliminate the issue.
Next up, the throttle pedal mount and the strengthening bracket from the 2.4 was fitted, reinforcing this area which had also cracked and broken away. A rather crude sandwich plate had previously been made and fitted.
The cross member that carries the engine and front suspension was bolted to the new front end. Also, a brace was made and fitted between the top shock absorber mounts. This will keep everything true whilst fitting.
As already mentioned the chassis rails locate on the lower 'lugs'. The top chassis rails are also located in a similar way by sleeving over tangs located inside the A-post tops. These top tangs were rather ill fitting and didn't have much holding them, just a rather weak looking, thin arc weld so we beefed this up a bit and ran a seam of mig weld all the way around before closing up the top. The inner wing to bulkhead joint was spot welded together as per factory. The front end lined up perfectly and we are very happy with the fit.
With all securely welded, the near side inner sill end could be replaced and the outrigger fitted. Then the front section of floor to bulkhead was replaced. We left this until we had a front end fitted. This was so we could tweak the fit of the front end if necessary.
Next up was to make a new front cross member as this is different on a Spider and we are using a Coupe front end. The cross member carries the radiator so mounting holes had to be made. These aren't just round holes, they have to be flanged internally for strength. The brake servo tank bracket and front centre jacking point were removed from the old Spider cross member and fitted to the newly fabricated cross member.
In the Coupe and Spider owner manuals, you will see illustrations of the cars being jacked up on these jacking points in the centre of the front cross member. I strongly advise you never do this as you will damage the cross member and if it is really weak, it will buckle and move upwards to make contact with the radiator, damaging it. The cross members become weak as they corrode internally but of note, the Spider cross member is not closed at the ends. This means it is not boxed so will easily collapse. We boxed the end of ours to add strength and give a better finish. We also discovered that behind the vacuum tank mount, the two folded sections that make the box of the cross member were not welded at all. This is directly above the centre jacking point so it was weak when the cars were new. Give it 45 years of stress and corrosion and you have little hope of it holding the weight of the car. People also use the mount to tow. The snatching effects of this result in a buckled cross member and often a crease in the lower valance. I see this damage on plenty of Spiders so don't do it! I recommend you jack on the engine and suspension cross member, the bolted in one just behind the low finned section of the sump. I use a suitable block of wood so as not to damage anything. Take care not to jack up on the sump plug bolt. Next use suitable axle stands to support the car. If you don't need to drop the front suspension, you can place these under the track control arms as close to the wheel as you can get them or, if lowering the suspension, support under the reinforced sill jacking points at the front of the sills. I usually use chocs of wood if using V shaped axle stands but whatever you do, make sure it's well secured. I then lift the rear of the car under the axle diff. I use a block of wood with a hole bored into it. This allows the diff drain plug to sit inside and not be strained. On a 2.4 the diff has an aluminium finned sump which is delicate. Obviously use a suitably soft piece of wood so as not to damage these. I then support either underneath the ends of the axle on a 2 litre/trailing arms on a 2.4 or, if lowering the suspension, the rear sill jacking points. If the car is supported under the front jacking points, I then gently jack up onto the front cross member just enough to take the strain away, otherwise you will find the body will drop and you won't be able to open or close the doors, particularly on a Spider. If it's being left for a long time, I would then use axle stands underneath the front anti-roll bar U-clamps and then remove the jack. This flexing of the front end can also give an indication as to the structural integrity of the Dino monocoque. Two litre Spiders tend to flex far less than 2.4s.
Before fitting the new cross member, repairs were made to the lower edge of the chassis rails. These included replacing the internal reinforced bracket that carries the captive nuts the anti-role bar U-clamps bolt to. The chassis rails were painted internally, then the new cross member was fitted.
Although the main structure of the Coupe chassis rails and inner wings are the same, there are a lot of detailed differences to attend to. The Spider bonnet is a lot smaller than the Coupe. It sits down between the humps of the wings. Also, it sits back from the nose of the Spider, behind the front panel. This makes for great differences between the landing panels of the Coupe and Spider and also the front bonnet hinge panel. New landing panels were made using the originals as patterns. These were actually very complicated to make. Originally they were one pressed out stamping but because we have to hand fabricate them they had to be made in two parts, then gas welded together. This was because they had diagonal folds going in opposite directions. The very front of the inner wings is also different and had to be re-made with new top box sections that join onto the boxed uprights that then support a curved bar that carries the nose section of the Spider. This curved bar is reminiscent of the earlier style of Pininfarina coach building. This whole area was very badly damaged in the accident. The bonnet hinges had a lot of washers brazed on behind them in an attempt to re-align the bonnet. These also carry the radiators top mounts. A Coupe radiator had been fitted as the original Spider unit must have been beyond economical repair. Coupe radiators are fitted using only one top mount. Spiders, however, have ears either side, lower down their flanks. These had to be re-made. The remains of the old Coupe centre mount were removed. The radiator will subsequently be re-cored. When this is done, the new brackets will be soldered onto the radiator end cans. The cans are dimpled where the mounts fix so alignment is fairly simple. We have used a Spider radiator from another car for the purposed of trial fitting and alignment of the bonnet/radiator mounts.
Once happy with the fit of the bonnet, we were then able to spot weld the landing panels into position. It is critical that the bonnet is fitted first and centralised nicely, then all the other panels can be made to fit and modified where necessary to enable tight fitting panel gaps
The front splash panels were then spot welded into position and the repaired air duct tubes were then welded in, after which the inner kick plates were fitted. With this done, the front end structural repairs are now finished.
In some of the photos you will see that new sills have been fitted but obviously work has moved on from what has been described in this report. In the spirit of continuity we are dealing with sections of the car in each report. In some cases other work has to be completed before we can complete that section i.e. the sills had to be replaced before we could fit the lower A-Post triangulation bracket.
The front end removed, the chassis rail lugs are the two triangular pieces pointing forwards. In the foreground is the coupé front end - you will see the different coupé front cross member still attached.
The chassis rail lugs have been cleaned up and de-rusted. We had to warm them up with the oxyacetylene torch to make it easier to dress out the dents and ripples left after using the splitting chisel to prise it off the from the chassis rails. Even after drilling out the spot welds, separating the chassis rail from the lugs was hard work. Also of note is the repaired throttle pedal mount area, blued from the gas welding. You can see the boxes within the top box section of the inner wing area that attach to the top of the bulk head (the 2 rectangular boxes either side of the bulk head but inboard of the A-Posts).
In the top righthand corner you will see a stepped seam (circled in the picture). This is where the top chassis box section joins the bulkhead.
Detail shot of bulkhead repairs to throttle pedal hinge mount area.
The same area but photographed from inside the car showing the reinforcing bracket removed from the 2.4 coupé as mentioned in the text. This was developed by the factory and fitted to the cars to eliminate this area cracking as it had done on this car. You will see how we have spot welded it to the repaired bulkhead.
Throttle pedal hinge trial fitted to check alignment after fitment of reinforcement bracket. In this shot you can clearly see the spot welds.
Throttle pedal with crude sandwich plate repair made from the remains of the old bulkhead. The restored mount and the repaired bulkhead can be seen behind.
Throttle pedal with crude sandwich plate repair made from the remains of the old bulkhead. The restored mount and the repaired bulkhead can be seen behind..
Bulkhead with the old damaged top box section removed. Note: we use a heavy zinc primer inside all closed box sections before closing them up again.
Inside view of old box section and newly fabricated one. Note: reinforced panel forming the throttle mount - this sleeves inside the remains of the old box section on the car that will be saved. This reinforcing will stop this area cracking again in the future.
Outside view of box sections. Note: remade wiring and brake pipe tangs spot welded in place on newly fabricated box section.
Box section fitted and tied in to inner wing tops. Note: in this picture we are actually getting ahead of ourselves a bit but it serves to illustrate how the box section looks when fitted.
The front end trial fitted up. The front lugs pass inside the front chassis rails. You will see a bolt passing through the steering idler mount (by the bottom g-clamp) - this aids alignment. The series of holes near the bolt and g-clamp are the old spot welds that have been drilled out. These will be filled up with mig weld - this process is called mig plugging which is a technique that replicates spot welding. This is used where it is inappropriate to use our spot welder due to access problems. Note: the brace between the shock absorber top mounts fitted to stop the top of the front end flexing and keep things aligned while fitting.
Out of focus detail shot of the front chassis rail fitment.
Front fitted with mig plugs to the lugs.
Front end fitted - note the lower cross member bolted on to keep things aligned during fitting.
Offside front view. Note the migged seam weld at the top of the A-Post.
View of front end fitted.
View of front end fitted.
Top box section fitted to inner wings. Note: top brace and lower cross member fitted to keep things square.
Detailed shot of corner brace and a tang on the end of top box section fitted to the inner wing.
Offside splash panel with new repair section gas welded to lower section. The returns are yet to be shaped. Note the bracket at the top that carries the foot pump for the windscreen washers.
Corroded lower section laid over new repair section to illustrate why we replaced it.
Corroded lower section laid over new repair section to illustrate why we replaced it.
Repair panel starting to take shape.
Offside splash panel repaired and fitted. Note: spot welds around the edge; also you can barely see the gas weld where we joined the original panel to the newly fabricated repair panel.
View from under the car showing how the splash panel fits to the outrigger. The old floor has yet to be replaced.
Nearside splash panel fitted.
View from inside. Can you see the join in the splash panel where the newly fabricated lower joins the original top of the splash panel? This is why we gas weld together and then dress it out so as to make the join invisible.
The repaired inside splash panel being spot welded into place.
Nearside splash panel fitted and primed. Note the mig plugs through the front lugs have been ground down and the panel dressed.
The nearside front chassis rail end has been opened up to enable the repair and replacement of the strengthening plate which carries the anti-roll bar u-clamp captive nuts. It is very common to find corrosion in Dinos in this area. I have even seen the u/clamps welded directly on the front chassis rail because the thread has gone on the captive nuts or sometimes they have pulled out.
New reinforcing plate that carries the anti-roll bar captive nuts next to which you will see the corroded original. We have yet to braze the new nuts into place on our repair panel. Once they are fitted the sides will be folded up. If you look closely on the original bracket you will see it has cracked along the folds where we have opened it up. We unfolded it to make it easier to use as a pattern to fabricate new ones.
The repaired area closed up. We have yet to mig plug the tang from the suspension mounting upright.
Looking inside the repaired area of the chassis rail you can see the captive nuts for the mounting of the anti-roll bar u-clamp.
New front cross member under construction laid on the old front end above the original cross member.
Top view of cross member showing the flared mounting holes for the radiator. You will also see new tangs fitted - these will carry the wiring loom.
Front cross member removed, awaiting the fitment of the newly fabricated spider cross member. The bolted in engine suspension cross member will keep everything square while fitting.
New cross member trial fitted.
Here you see the old landing panel. Of note are the dimensions that we have marked to help us with the fabrication of the new panel.
New landing panel under construction, the old damaged original is to the top of the picture - we are using this a a pattern.
New front wing trial fitted to new landing panel. These landing panels are very complicated to make and are crucial to the correct alignment of the wings. Their shape also controls the bonnet gap.
New landing panel fitted and primed. Note: front cross member closing panel - it is left open by the factory, we opted to finish it properly.
Nearside landing panel. We are starting the construction of the front chassis rail ends. This area may look simple but if it is not absolutely 100% correct none of the outer panels will line up.
Nearside front inner sill and cross member fitted, also lower A-Post inner constructed and fitted.
Different view of nearside inner sill and front cross member.
Different view of nearside inner sill and front cross member.
Nearside front lug area dressed and finished. Note the 3 steering box mount holes, also the 2 captive nuts that carry the steering stop bolts.
Spider upturned showing new front cross member. Note the vacuum tank bracket in the middle of the cross member.
Nearside front inner sill replaced. The hole in the floor is to help us gain access while working on the car. All floors have yet to be replaced..
Offside front box section that carries the curved bar. This bar will support the nose section, it also braces the front end.
The wings, valance and grill are trial fitted to check alignment.
Nearside front. A new triangulation bracket that connects the A-Post to the splash panel has been fabricated and fitted.
A-Post triangulation. What can we see through the round window today?.
Nearside A-Post. The fresh air duct has been repaired and refitted. We have then primed the area with a heavy zinc coat.
Nearside inner kick panel repaired and refitted. Note the brackets that carry the fuse box and above these the bonnet pull lever.
Here we have the radiator that was originally fitted to the Spider. Sitting on top of the radiator are the newly fabricated mounting brackets. you will see we have removed the lower support section so that we can have it shot blasted (this is the tall bracket leaning against the radiator core). We will have the radiator core replaced as this is of an incorrect type for the Dino. When this is done we will have the new brackets soldered to the radiator end tanks, this will restore it back to factory specification.
Here we have one of the new radiator mounts which we have fabricated. We have trial fitted it to the radiator.
Lower support section blasted and primed. We have replaced the two m6 studs that carry the cooling fan cowling. You can see the remains of the old studs lying in the support section. Note the top mounts, and behind them an original Spider radiator used as a pattern for reference. Also if you look closely you will see the difference between and original Fiat core and the one we are having replaced as it is clearly incorrect.